Remember that period of aggressive/whiny/frustatingly out-of-character behavior we were dealing with for the last 2ish weeks? At the time I guessed teething and/or a possible growth spurt or developmental leap. Now that we are (fingers crossed!) on the upswing, retrospect tells me it was probably a serendipitous combination of all three.
Two molars have popped, if I am really seeing what I think I’m seeing during nightly teeth brushing. And, all of a sudden the “I’m all dones” at every meal have turned back into his regular gobble-everything-and-ask-for-more routine. Thank goodness. Yesterday I had to retire several shirts and pairs of pants because they looked like they shrunk in the wash. Spoiler alert: I don’t think it’s the laundry’s fault! His little body and brain is changing so rapidly it’s not a wonder he was acting like such a little monster.
But the biggest new thing we’ve seen recently (as in, all of a sudden, in the last few days, as soon as his behavior started improving) is a DRAMATIC leap in Owen’s pretend play. It’s like his imagination just caught up with his vocabulary in an instant, like a flash of lightning.
At the dinner table last night he announced, “I’m a LION. RAAAAWR.” as he pawed the air and roared at his broccoli. Then, without any prompting, whispering “Shhhh! There’s a little teeny tiny mousie under da table.”. And without hesitation, “I’m going to make the doggie a cake in my kitchen. And a hat. And a candle. It’s his birt-day!”. Benjamin and I were practically peeing our pants laughing as Owen went from one monologue to the other, inventing characters and pretending.
Similarly, he has started speaking for his stuffed animals (“Cookie Monster wants to come play on the swingset with us! Can he come, Mommy?”) and engaging them in conversations (“Ok Cookie. You put one hand here, one hand here, and then you go down da slide! Yeah, just like dat!”).
It not only cracks me up but also makes me marvel at the thoughts in his little brain. Calling him creative or observant doesn’t even begin to cover it.
My new challenge for myself is to follow him down all of these imaginative avenues. To not just acknowledge that he sees a lion, but to be one alongside him. To not just smile and nod when he imagines a crazy character, but to ask questions to grow his story even further.
I recently read an article (I think it was from the most recent Parents magazine) that encouraged parents to use the classic “yes, and…” improv technique. Anyone who has ever done improv or acting has likely done this in a warm-up exercise and it is a surprisingly easy way to cultivate a child’s pretend play. Here’s how you play: When your child come up with a silly situation or an imaginary character, you simply say “Yes! And…” and then add something to the story. You acknowledge what they’ve imagined and you make it bigger. Better. Funnier. More ridiculous. (“Yes! You’re a lion and I’m your baby lion. Rawr, rawr. I’m hungry, can you make me something to eat?”). And all of a sudden you’re 100% engaged in this pretend world together.
Engaging creatively with Owen is one super fun outcome of this new pretend play, but him playing without me is equally as thrilling. Since this developmental explosion, Owen has had conversations with his animals and vroomed trucks and mixed up his play food in his little kitchen, all the while talking to himself in a quiet little babble. ALONE. Which, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know this little extravert doesn’t do very often. Since it’s still so new, I usually sit across the room holding my breath so I don’t break the spell, because as soon as he remembers I’m there, he wants me to be in the game again. This self-entertainment is a skill we’ve been waiting for for a long time, and it is totally amazing to watch him doing it now.
So perhaps those two weeks of having an angry/sad/whiny/sleep-deprived child were worth it? The jury is still out on that, but this new development sure is entertaining!